PHILIPSBURG - The Philipsburg-Osceola girls volleyball team continued to breeze through its half of the District Class AA bracket on Thursday, downing Richland in straight games in the semifinals.
The Lady Mounties won by scores of 25-21, 25-21, 25-21. Philipsburg-Osceola improved to 30-5 overall. The Lady Mounties play Penn Cambria on Saturday at 3 p.m. for the District 6 Class AA title - the Lady Panthers stayed undefeated with a three-game win over Ligonier Valley in the other Class AA semifinal, 25-13, 25-14, 25-17.
Penn Cambria's Taylor Freeman led the way with 18 kills and nine digs. Setter Kelly Yusko netted 28 assists, while Karissa Buzzella had nine digs and six kills.
Despite the big margins of victory, Ligonier Valley did challenge several times. However, the Lady Panthers answered back, despite making a few mistakes.
"They had a lot of unforced errors," Lady Panthers coach Leah Montgomery of her team. "I think if we keep those to a minimum I think we have a better chance of winning."
Penn Cambria was led at the service line by Buzzella, who had 15 service points. Five of them came in the first set, where the Lady Panthers pulled out to an 11-6 lead.
Freeman had four of her kills in the frame.
"Taylor can jump," Montgomery said. "She is not that tall, but boy can she jump. She's is going to be around 600 kills for us this season and that's almost unheard of. It might even be a little more than that. But she is my top kills and top digs. She's just such a good all-around player."
Freeman was set up several times by Yusko, who worked the court and mixed up a lot of her passes. She also had eight service points in the game.
"She's a very good setter," Montgomery said. "She can get from one corner to another. She's a very strong. A lot of times teams don't think she is going to push it out when she does or bring it back when she does."
Ligonier Valley's only real threat came in the third set, when the Lady Rams tied the game at 11-11 before taking a 14-11 advantage.
But Penn Cambria answered with a eight-point service run from Buzzella to take a 21-16 lead.
Freeman had four kills during the run, which saw the Lady Panthers buckle down to pull out the 25-17 victory.
"That's what so good about this team," Montgomery said. "They are a team. I don't have any drama or attitude. They come together as a team and get it done.
"I think that is what has gotten us through some of the games, not so much our athleticism. We are being a team and I think that makes a big difference."
Penn Cambria improved to 20-0 overall. Ligonier Valley finished the year at 13-6.
P-O got some key play from its roster laden with juniors and sophomores to head back to the district title game for the first time since 2010.
"All the girls played well," Lady Mounties coach Dave Eckberg said. "At practice we went over some things that we wanted to execute. They are a smart group and I only have to tell them one time about executing. They did that tonight."
Still, the Lady Mounties were challenged by a scrappy Lady Rams squad which features one of the area's better hitters in Kelsey Roush.
Roush had 13 kills against P-O on Thursday, down from her 17 kills against Westmont Hilltop on Wednesday. But the big key was limiting Roush from the service line, where she had 14 service points against the Lady Hilltoppers in their quarterfinal match.
"We practiced for it," Eckberg said of Roush's hitting. "We knew she would get her kills tonight. There is no way we could really shut her down, but we limited her service runs. That's how Westmont Hilltop got in trouble yesterday.
"We really practiced on knowing where she was on the court, front row or back row. And, with the exception of a couple of lapses, we stuck to the gameplan."
Roush finished the game with just three service points.
While, the Lady Rams were struggling from the service line, P-O was faring much better than it did on Wednesday against Central.
The Lady Mounties had 12 service errors against the Lady Dragons, but had just nine against Richland. Three of those came off the jump serve.
"They did serve better tonight," Eckberg said. "We had a specific game plan. When she was back row, we were a little more conservative in our serves because we didn't have the threat of her in the front row to attack us. That seemed to work pretty well tonight."
While the scores were all close, the Lady Mounties never seemed to lose their momentum. Only once did the Lady Rams threaten, and that came in the third set when they took the lead.
But P-O rallied behind a big kill from Marlee Chutko to put the game away. It was the second big play of the match for Chutko, who had a huge block in the first set to help swing momentum the Lady Mounties' way.
"It did turn the tide," Eckberg said. "Both games were pretty close at that point. It allowed us to get the seperation where we could play a little more loose. We upped our tempo. When they get the ball, they are going to go back and they are going to serve and try to keep the pressure on. So she made some great stops."
The Lady Mounties were lead by 12 kills from captain Kylee Scovern. Abby Showers added nine kills, while McKenzie Burge had 24 assists.
Richland ended the season at 11-7.